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My Portrait, My Why 2017

Making a local connection

Deana Jirak


When you travel to Haiti, there is something noticeably different in the response to your plans than when you travel other places. There is, without exception, a hesitation. As if the person you are talking to is waiting for an explanation. And then when there isn't one, that person provides a question, "Why? You must be volunteering." The answer to "why" is something you can't truly answer on your own. When you go to Haiti, Haiti has a plan for you. A reason for you being there, that only you will learn once you have gone. Did I have a plan? Yes, very much so. But why I went, was not realized until I was there.

In Haiti, I learned how far both Haiti and I had come the past two years. It was encouraging to see the progress that has taken place there. Grass grew where there was once tents. In myself, I discovered a growth of confidence and self-awareness. Two years ago, I felt that I left part of my heart in Haiti. I even titled my album "My first trip to Haiti" because I was so compelled to return. When I went back, I not only found that piece, but the comfort and love that only comes from returning to a place so dear, reconnecting with those who are so far away, and bonding with new, special people in my life.

One of those people was Pierre Maxime, an artist that I had met on my previous trip. I had brought an extra suitcase worth of supplies for his art students. We had kept in touch over the previous two years since my last trip, mostly short messages of "Hello friend" on Facebook messenger since the language barrier prevented much deeper conversation. I was excited to give him the supplies and he was excited to introduce me to his students. Unfortunately, the weather had other plans and while Pierre could get to me, I could not get back to where the children were due to flooding in the roads that stood in between. Disappointed, he graciously took the supplies I brought and we said our goodbyes.

The next morning, a shout came from outside the bus we had boarded to stop. Someone beaconed me to get out. There stood Pierre. In his hand, he had a surprise for me; a portrait of me that he had painted. It was gorgeous and we all burst into tears at that incredible moment. Pierre had no way of knowing this, but I had recently lost my father, who used to paint portraits of me at pivotal moments in my life. This was my signal that it was time for my next stage.

Haiti was extraordinary. The why is different for everyone. And I challenge you to answer the better question "Why not?"

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